by Elisabeth Stitt
WE CARE SO DEEPLY, IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION
Ideally, spouses will agree with each other. Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy. Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make! Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.
FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS
I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on. The first key is that the core values are the same. I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes. For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.” Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other. I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.
The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other. In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there. Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v. When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.” In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back. I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me. It was enough that he supported me. By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.
ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS
As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches. If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it. In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins. Kids can handle two standards to some extent. That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get. Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes. In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent. In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning. Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.
MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER
Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day. If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me. That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree. On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue. For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends. That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.
IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE
The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision. Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure. They get that from having their parents on the same page.